Mother’s Fears Passed to Children Via Scent

I just read this great piece on Aromatherapy written by Dr. Mercola.  The full article titled Mother's Fears Are Passed to Children Through Smell, covers interesting emotional traits that are passes from generation to generation.   Below a portion of the article relating to Aromatherapy.

Mother’s Fears Passed to Children Via Scent

During the study, female rats were conditioned to fear the smell of peppermint before they were pregnant. Later, the rats’ pups were exposed to the peppermint scent along with a scent of their mother’s reacting to the peppermint odor.

The newborn pups learned to fear the smell even when their mothers weren’t there, after just a single exposure.1 However, when activity was blocked in the pups’ amygdala, a region of the brain that processes emotions, including fear responses, the pups did not learn to fear the peppermint scent.

So it seems that, via scent, “infants can learn from their mothers about potential environmental threats before their sensory and motor development allows them a comprehensive exploration of the surrounding environment.”2 The impact of scent on fear was so strong that some of the rats tried to plug the tubing to stop the scent from coming in, a habit that the researchers plan to study further.


The Power of Scents

The fact that a mother’s fears can be passed on to her offspring via a scent like peppermint adds further support for the use of aromatherapy, as it’s clear that scents trigger real physical and emotional responses. Just as certain scents can evoke fear, others may trigger calm or even help relieve anxiety. For instance, research shows:

  • A systematic review of 16 randomized controlled trials examining the anxiolytic (anxiety-inhibiting) effects of aromatherapy among people with anxiety symptoms showed that most of the studies indicated positive effects to quell anxiety (and no adverse events were reported).3
  • People exposed to bergamot essential oil aromatherapy prior to surgery had a greater reduction in pre-operative anxiety than those in control groups.4
  • Sweet orange oil has been found to have anxiety-inhibiting effects in humans, supporting its common use as a tranquilizer by aromatherapists.5
  • Ambient odors of orange and lavender reduced anxiety and improved mood in patients waiting for dental treatment.6
  • Compared to the controls, women who were exposed to orange odor in a dental office had a lower level of anxiety, a more positive mood, and a higher level of calmness. Researchers concluded, “exposure to ambient odor of orange has a relaxant effect.”7

Anxiety, of course, is only one use for aromatherapy. Other potential uses include:

  • Green apple scent for migraines: One study found that the scent significantly relieved migraine pain. This may also work with other scents that you enjoy, so consulting with an aromatherapist might be beneficial.
  • Peppermint for memory: The aroma of peppermint has been shown to enhance memory and increase alertness.
  • Nausea and vomiting: A blend of peppermint, ginger, spearmint, and lavender essential oils has been found to help relieve post-operative nausea.8
  • Lavender for pain relief: Lavender aromatherapy has been shown to lessen pain following needle insertion.9


Posted on August 26, 2014 .